Posts by: Matin Durrani

In the footsteps of Cecil Powell

Pion pioneer: a bust of Cecil Powell

Pionic man: a bust of Cecil Powell. (Courtesy: University of Bristol Special Collections)

By  Matin Durrani

I spent yesterday at the University of Bristol, where a meeting was held to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the discovery of the pion in 1947.

The particle was spotted by Cecil Powell, who joined the university’s physics department in 1928 and went on to win the 1950 Nobel Prize for Physics for his efforts.

At the time, the pion was thought to be the carrier of the strong nuclear force, which binds protons and neutrons in the nucleus, though we now know it is one of a family of strongly interacting mesons.

As we heard yesterday from introductory speaker Brian Pollard, Powell found evidence for the pion using a series of ingenious (and literally breathtaking) experiments that involved him taking specially manufactured photographic plates to high altitudes up the Pic-du-Midi mountain in the Pyrenees.

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The September 2017 issue of Physics World magazine is now out

PWSep17cover-200By Matin Durrani

Some of the daily challenges facing women in physics are tackled in the latest issue of Physics World magazine, which is now out.

As well as a round-up from the recent International Conference on Women in Physics, which took place in Birmingham, UK, there’s a fascinating feature about the life of Jocelyn Bell Burnell. She discovered pulsars 50 years ago next month and became the first female president of the Institute of Physics, which publishes Physics World.

As Bell Burnell points out, “Fix the women!” is often seen as the solution to why women progress more slowly in physics than men. In fact, she argues, larger problems – notably institutional bias and poor policies – are to blame.

Don’t miss either our cover feature on the stunning images Cassini has been beaming back over the last few months before it plunges into Saturn on 15 September. We’ve also got a great Lateral Thoughts article by Daniel Whiteson, illustrated by PHD Comics artist Jorge Cham. Plus, find out how groups of cells move, communicate and organize themselves in networks.

Remember that if you’re a member of the Institute of Physics, you can read Physics World magazine every month via our digital apps for iOS, Android and Web browsers.

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The August 2017 issue of Physics World is now out

PWAug17cover-200By Matin Durrani

Who inspired you to study physics? Perhaps you had a great teacher or a supportive parent. But how might it feel if you’ve got a sibling who’s also into the subject? Would they be your rival or would the two of you support and nurture each other?

These issues facing “sibling scientists” are the cover feature of the August issue of Physics World magazine, which is now out. Turns out that sibling scientists are generally a force for good, especially with the elder child acting as a mentor and guide – often providing information, support and advice to the younger sister or brother.

I wonder in fact if we should do more to encourage boys and girls who are already in thrall with physics to persuade their siblings into the subject too. Of course, our feature isn’t an exhaustive scientific study, so do tell us if you know of other examples of sibling science.

Remember that if you’re a member of the Institute of Physics, you can read Physics World magazine every month via our digital apps for iOS, Android and Web browsers.

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Our hazardous planet: when the world is out to get you

PWJul17cover-200By Matin Durrani

For people afflicted by last month’s devastating fire at Grenfell Tower in London or for those caught up in recent terrorist atrocities, it can seem that many problems in this world are entirely of our own making.

Yes the modern world has benefited from our collective wisdom and creativity – especially through science and engineering – but often it feels as if irrational human behaviour lies at the root of many of our troubles.

Nevertheless, we should remember that our planet itself holds many natural hazards too, as the latest special issue of Physics World reminds us.

Remember that if you’re a member of the Institute of Physics, you can read Physics World magazine every month via our digital apps for iOS, Android and Web browsers.

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Happy birthday Fermilab

Little house on the prairie: Robert Wilson's first office on the Fermilab site (Courtesy: Fermilab)

Little house on the prairie: the first director’s office on the National Accelerator Laboratory site. (Courtesy: Fermilab)

By Matin Durrani

Music lovers will remember 1967 as the year the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. For sports fans it was the year when Celtic became the first British team to win football’s European Cup. As for scientists, 1967 will go down in history as the year in which the first human heart transplant took place and the first radio pulsars were detected by Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Antony Hewish and others at the University of Cambridge, UK.

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Physics World investigative report bags writing award

Photo of Susan Curtis from IOP Publishing with Cynthia Carter, president of the Specialised Information Publishers Association (SIPA) picking up a prize on behalf of Louise Mayor for her article "Where people and particles collide"

Stateside ceremony: Susan Curtis from IOP Publishing (right) picks up the award on behalf of Louise Mayor for her article “Where people and particles collide” from SIPA president Cynthia Carter in Washington DC.

By Matin Durrani

I am delighted to announce that Physics World features editor Louise Mayor has come second in the David Swit Award for Best Investigative Reporting in the 2017 awards from the Specialized Information Publishers Association (SIPA). Louise was recognized for her feature “Where people and particles collide”, which was published in the March 2016 special issue of Physics World on making physics a more inclusive discipline.

The article examined long-standing attempts by members of the LGBT CERN group at the CERN particle-physics lab near Geneva to become an official “CERN Club” – a request that was denied. It also reported how the group had received some negative reception at CERN, as evidenced by a poster-defacement campaign, photos of which were published in the article.

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Test your brains with the Physics World blackboard quiz

A blackboard at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterlook, Canada

BLACKBOARD 1

By Matin Durrani

Can you tell what branch of physics is being described on the blackboard above? It’s one of six photographs taken by the communications folks at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada, where blackboards are an integral feature of the building’s design, appearing everywhere from the lifts to coffee areas.

In this quiz, your task is to study six blackboards and match them up with the physics topics they represent. There’s no prize, other than the satisfaction of having at least some inkling of what those clever theorists at the Perimeter are up to.

So here are the six topics:

• Accretion physics and general relativity

• Cosmology

• Neural networks and condensed matter

• Particle physics 1

• Particle physics 2

• Strings

And here are the six blackboards (you can click on each to see it in more detail).

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Fermilab at 50: the June 2017 issue of Physics World is now out

PWJun17cover-200By Matin Durrani

With America’s iconic Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) celebrating its 50th anniversary this month, check out the June 2017 issue of Physics World magazine, which is now live in the Physics World app for mobile and desktop.

Fermilab mades its name with the Tevatron proton–antiproton collider but neutrinos hold the key to the lab’s future, as Ben Still from Queen Mary University of London makes clear in a feature on the physics of these elusive particles.

You can also enjoy a cracking review of Tommaso Dorigo’s new warts-and-all account of life in the CDF collaboration at Fermilab, while Seyda Ipek from the lab pops up in Philip Ball’s homage to the blackboard – which you can also read on physicsworld.com.

Plus don’t miss this month’s Lateral Thoughts, which reveals how one physicist working in a Scottish call centre ended up chatting to Enrico Fermi’s daughter-in-law about her TV.

Remember that if you’re a member of the Institute of Physics, you can read Physics World magazine every month via our digital apps for iOS, Android and Web browsers.

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The May 2017 issue of Physics World is now out

PWMay17cover-200By Matin Durrani

Einstein’s equations of general relativity might fit on a physicist’s coffee mug, but solving them is no mean feat. Now, however, the equations have been solved in a cosmological setting for the first time, as Tom Giblin, James Mertens and Glenn Starkman explain in the May 2017 issue of Physics World magazine, which is now live in the Physics World app for mobile and desktop

Elsewhere in the issue, you can enjoy an interview with John Holdren, who spent eight years as Barack Obama’s presidential science adviser. Find out too about the good and bad of nanoparticles and explore the potential that skyrmions – magnetic quasiparticles – could hold as a new form of memory storage.

Don’t miss either this month’s Lateral Thoughts, in which physicist Roger Todd describes how his invention of a system for automatically watering his house plants almost led to a commercial device.

Remember that if you are a member of the Institute of Physics, you can read Physics World magazine every month via our digital apps for iOS, Android and Web browsers.

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So you want to know about the dark universe?

Photo of Catherine Heymans, University of Edinburgh

Big thinker – Catherine Heymans is an observational cosmologist at the University of Edinburgh and author of the new Physics World Discovery ebook The Dark Universe.

By Matin Durrani

It never ceases to amaze me that we know almost nothing about 95% of the universe. Sure, the consensus is that 25% is dark matter and the rest is something dubbed “dark energy”, but beyond that our knowledge is wafer thin.

The flip side, though, is that there’s plenty for physicists to get stuck into. And if you want to get up to speed with the field and find out more about some of its challenges, do check out a new free-to-read Physics World Discovery ebook by Catherine Heymans from the Royal Observatory, University of Edinburgh, UK.

Available in ePub, Kindle and PDF formats, The Dark Universe explains the dark enigma and examines “the cosmologist’s toolkit of observations and techniques that allow us to confront different theories on the dark universe”. And to get you in the mood for all things dark, I asked Heymans some questions about her life as a research scientist. Here’s what she had to say.

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